Begonias are excellent plants for shade gardens. The huge variety of begonia foliage and flowers makes these plants interesting as well as beautiful. Whether you grow begonias in a hanging basket, under trees or in a sunless area of your yard, they will provide texture and color during most of the growing season.
Of the hundreds of species of begonias, most gardeners grow varieties that fall into a few distinct types. Wax begonias are grown as annuals in northern gardens. In the wild they are tropical perennials. They have shiny, waxy-looking leaves which may be green or shades of bronze. Their many clusters of small flowers bloom in white and shades of red and pink.
Tuberous begonias have colorful foliage as well as brightly colored flowers. They grow from tubers, which should be dug up and stored frost-free during the winter, to be replanted the following year. Semi-tuberous begonias do not have tubers, but instead have a bulb-like swollen area of the stem called a caudex, from which branches grow. They, too, should not be left outside in the winter.
Rex begonias have insignificant flowers. Their claim to fame is their foliage, which grows in an astounding array of colors, shapes, and sizes. Rex begonias are also tender plants. Except in tropical areas, they must be brought indoors in the winter.
In their natural habitat, begonias are tropical perennials. They grow under the canopy of larger plants where it is always shady. Species begonias are "wild" begonias that have not been hybridized or crossed with other types. Begonia enthusiasts all over the world preserve and protect species begonias, because so much native habitat is being destroyed.
Some begonias will tolerate filtered sunlight. Some require deep shade.
Begonia foliage is quickly and easily sunburned. Grow begonias in containers so you can move them from place to place in your garden. This is an excellent way to keep them in the shade. Besides protection from the sun's rays, containers make it possible for you to move your begonias to a protected porch, patio, or indoors during damaging storms.
Begonias that are planted directly in the ground may suffer as the growing season progresses and shadows shift, changing the amount of sunlight they receive. They may also have to compete with trees for water and nutrients. However, they also have an opportunity for unrestricted growth, and they may develop into large specimen plants.
Use vivid begonias to bring the shady areas of your yard to life. Specialized begonias can be used for different purposes. Different varieties of trailing tuberous begonias are popular for use in hanging baskets. Begonias that grow from rhizomes tend to be rather bushy and spreading, and they are often used in shady beds and borders. Rex begonias are used as container plants for indoor or outdoor display, as well as for adding lush texture to shady areas.
Try to replicate a tropical climate, and your begonias will reward you with luxurious foliage and gorgeous flowers. Begonias prefer slightly acidic soil. They need to have ample water, but the soil should never be soggy. Use perlite in container soil to keep it light so it will drain properly. Mix perlite into the soil in outdoor beds, and into planting holes when you set out rhizomes and tubers. Add peat to boost the soil acidity and increase the humus in heavy soils.